Opabinia eberly college illustration

A reconstruction of Opabinia

Opabinia was a stem group arthropod from the Cambrian-age deposits of the Burgess Shale.


Opabinia was a small creature, measuring from 4 to 7 centimeters in length. Perhaps its most distinctive feature is its proboscis, which was tipped with a pincer-like structure. Opabinia also possessed five eyes attached to small stalks. Its eyes are often restored as being compound, although this is completely speculative.[1]


The taxonomic location of Opabinia is still debated,[2] but current thinking places it as a stem group arthropod. Several species have been named over the years, but only the type, O. regalis, remains valid today.


Opabinia was first discovered in the Burgess Shale, and it was described by Charles Walcott in 1912. Sometime around 1966, Harry B. Whittington discovered a particularly well-preserved specimen and realized the bizarre nature of the animal.[3] When he first explained his analysis in a public presentation, the audience laughed at the strange appearance of the creature.[4]


Due to the way they are preserved, most animals of the Burgess Shale likely lived on the sea floor. Since there is no trace of jaws on Opabinia, its food was probably small and soft.


  1. Paulus, H.F. (2000). "Phylogeny of the Myriapoda-Crustacea-Insecta: a new attempt using photoreceptor structure*". Journal of Zoological Systematics & Evolutionary Research 38 (3): 189–208. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0469.2000.383152.x.
  2. Budd, G.E. (1996). "The morphology of Opabinia regalis and the reconstruction of the arthropod stem-group". Lethaia 29 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.1996.tb01831.x.
  3. Gould, S.J. (1990). Wonderful Life. London: Hutchinson Radius. p. 77 and p. 189. ISBN 0-09-174271-4.
  4. Whittington, H.B. (June 1975). "The enigmatic animal Opabinia regalis, Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences 271 (910): 1–43 271. Bibcode 1975RSPTB.271....1W. doi:10.1098/rstb.1975.0033. JSTOR 2417412. Free abstract at Whittington, H. B. (1975). "The Enigmatic Animal Opabinia regalis, Middle Cambrian, Burgess Shale, British Columbia". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B 271 (910): 1. Bibcode 1975RSPTB.271....1W. doi:10.1098/rstb.1975.0033.